The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 1 “Done Running” Review
Telltale Games has put out a lot of episodic adventure games over the years, but you could make a strong case that their The Walking Dead series is the flagship franchise. It’s the one that really put Telltale on the map, with its unique, cel-shaded look that perfectly captured the feel of its graphic novel source material, and its characters – oh, those morally ambiguous characters – who made us angry, made us frustrated, but always made us care.
After a strong first couple of seasons, the franchise seemed to lose its bite as a host of new characters were added and Clementine was relegated to a secondary role. Story and writing got a bit stale and repetitive, while the novelty of the same old scripted QTE zombie encounters wore off. But as a fan, I’m happy to report that if Episode One is any indication, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is looking to be an excellent ending to the series and maybe one of the best seasons yet. “Done Running” is like a showcase of visual, narrative and gameplay improvements that will have even the most jaded fans shuffling back to the series like hungry walkers.
First off, Clementine (Clem) is back, front-and-center, as the main protagonist. Older now and wiser, she is in the role of mentor as she guides a young AJ (whose mother died in Season Two) on the run from the ever-present undead horde. Original voice actress Melissa Hutchinson is also back as Clem, and it’s always a thrill to hear the subtle change in her voice as she plays Clem at different ages throughout the series. But you’ll notice a difference to this season, and it’s a good one; while the choices you make, and their consequences, are always a major part of any Telltale adventure, this time the stakes feel much higher as the game makes it clear from the start that AJ will be watching what you do and say as Clem, and his character will be shaped by you – for good or bad. Talk about pressure.
For me as a player, this is a game changer. Previously, when my actions affected “the narrative,” that huge, vague set of equally-valid outcomes, I felt intrigued but never all that emotionally invested. But now, with AJ, I could see Clem’s actions throughout “Done Running” being absorbed by him, molding him into any number of possible people by Season’s end. In this game, you’re not just making a few crucial “forking pathway” choices; I felt like literally everything I did and said as Clem was a choice that would have a consequence in both the short and long term. It’s a concept we’ve seen Telltale try in recent games like Batman: The Enemy Within, but here it feels even deeper and more authentic.
Narratively, “Done Running” makes it clear that Season Four will tread on familiar ground, as Clem and AJ find themselves joining a group of fellow survivors holed up in a former boarding school. Of course, as anyone who has read the Walking Dead comics, seen the shows or played the previous games knows, the real danger isn’t zombies but other people, and Clem and AJ soon find that their new young friends hide a terrible secret. It’s not a revolutionary main plot – and it’s frankly a bit light on actual zombies – but it is well-written and expertly paced. While I’ve almost come to expect the cliched “shocking twist” at this point, I was genuinely taken aback a couple of times, and the ending? Let’s just say I haven’t been this keen to continue a Telltale story in a long time. And the real mind-job was, it was very clear that my actions through the episode directly affected it.
You’ll Need Both Hands
“Done Running” includes some action sequences as well, and this is where some of the most noticeable gameplay improvements emerged. Combat is no longer just a matter of leisurely pressing prompted buttons in QTE sequences. Telltale has added dynamic and strategic elements that force you to actually pay attention at times. Groups of walkers will now overwhelm you if you don’t use B to separate them. Or, you might have to take out one zombie’s knees to immobilize them while you stab another one in the head. Try to just spam one attack and you’ll die. Crazy right? At one point, I also had to do some mildly challenging bow-hunting for food, and my success or failure at rabbit-hunting was reflected in the story. This is the first Telltale game in a while that I couldn’t eat a sandwich while playing, and trust me, that is a compliment.
Finally, there’s the visuals. “Done Running” still has that trademark graphic-novel look, but it’s been clearly spruced up and this final season is the best-looking of the series so far. The game’s Graphic Black style positively pops with detail, and a new three-dimensional effect adds depth to the comic book aesthetic that really made the game more immersive this time around. Even up close, there was a level of detail and polish I haven’t seen before in a Telltale game. And if you’re using a 4K setup and all the other latest bells and whistles, Season Four looks to be a visual stunner.
In “Done Running,” Telltale gives us the Walking Dead game we fell in love with back in Season One, but with noticeable upgrades in gameplay and visuals. After such a fantastic opening episode, I’m excited to see not only how this story plays out, but how my actions as Clem will directly shape AJ and the narrative. If you’re a fan of The Walking Dead franchise or Telltale games, this one is a must play.
** A PC game code was provided by the publisher **
- Actions have real consequences
- Upgraded combat
- Slick new visuals
- Plot is not revolutionary
- Could use more actual zombies